Connect with us

Europe

Geopolitical issues of Kosovo

Published

on

President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia has confirmed his intention to attend the Victory Parade in Moscow on June 24th. «I have received an invitation from Moscow, so naturally, I will represent Serbia at Victory Parade», – Srbija Danas cites him as saying. «Few countries can pride themselves on anti-fascist struggle like Serbia. I will proudly hold the flag of my Fatherland on Red Square in Moscow», – the Serbian president said.

The Serbian leader also said that he was planning to meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin within the next few days ( on June 17 or 18).

According to reports, one of the key issues to be discussed at the forthcoming talks is the situation involving Kosovo. In the words of Aleksandar Vucic, the  current state of affairs has forced him to give up on putting forward “great initiatives” relative to the Kosovo issue and  he is waiting for proposal from  the international community. At present, he said, he cannot see a solution to the Kosovo problem, since all of his previously voiced proposals on Kosovo were declined: ««When I saw a solution everybody said that my vision was poor and that the issue had better be handled by those who do not live in the Balkans and who have nothing to do with  Serbs or Albanians rather than those who ar directly involved in the conflict – these are Serbs and Albanians. This is how influential states have been behaving in this region for more than 150 years». «I am waiting to see what kind of proposal we will receive. If you ask me why I say so and what I expect I will tell you that I do not expect anything. I do not know what they will propose», – President Vucic added.

The Serbian president approved of a decision by the newly formed government of Kosovo to abolish trade tariffs which were imposed on Serbian goods. He said that this decision would pave the way to the resumption of talks between Belgrade and Pristina and that it should facilitate the development of economic ties. «This will set a framework for better cooperation between our business communities», – Aleksandar Vucic underscored.

By the «previous proposals» on Kosovo settlement President Vucic means, first of all, the idea of dividing Kosovo into  the  Serbian  and  Albanian sections, which he and Kosovo President Hashim Taci presented in the middle of 2018 with a view to secure normalization of bilateral relations. The above mentioned measure was designed to guarantee implementation of the key requirement for Serbia’s membership in the European Union. The document included a protocol on a territorial carve-up of Kosovo.

The corresponding agreement was to be signed in early September 2018 in Brussels with the participation of EU leaders. However, the process was stalled by differences over division principles and protests by opposition forces in Belgrade and Pristina.

There existed two projects for the division in question. Under Hashim Taci’s plans, the relevant scenario was to be a “package” one envisaging a comprehensive exchange of territories, including Serb-populated Northern Kosovo communities Leposavic, Zvecan and Zubin Potok (about one fifth of the territory of Kosovo),  Albanian-populated adjacent to Kosovo Southern Serbian communities  Bujanovac and Presevo, and also, if possible, Medveja.

In the opinion of the Kosovo leader, a revision of borders to the effect that regions of Serbia with an Albanian majority would become part of Kosovo, while those populated by Serbs mostly would go to Serbia could ease tension between Belgrade and Pristina. That the Pristina authorities had to hand over to Serbia part of Kosovo was announced by Hashim Taci at the beginning of 2019 as he addressed the Council for International Relations in Washington. In his words, the signing of a corresponding agreement with Belgrade in Brussels under the patronage of the EU would make it possible for Kosovo to secure an approval from  Serbia and join the UN: «If a minor change of the border is the cost of a final peace settlement, it should be acceptable». Such an agreement, Hashim Taci says, should be signed “with the support of the United States”. In his words, it looks like Russia “is ready to accept an agreement which will be reached” between the two parties.

He added that what is meant is «commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace settlement between Kosovo and Serbia, which will guarantee Kosovo a seat in the UN and will enable it to acquire membership in the family of NATO and the EU».

According to the last census in Serbia, about 90 thousand people live in three southern communities of Presevo Valley. The ratio of Serbs and Albanians is as follows: in Presevo – 89% Albanians and 9% Serbs, in Bujanovac – 55% Albanians and 34% Serbs, in Medveja – 26% Albanians and 67% Serbs. Thus, Albanians make up the majority of the population of Presevo and Bujanovac and are “building up” their presence in Medveja.  This triggers concerns in Belgrade.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic agrees in principle to the division of Kosovo, with Belgrade regaining control of the province’s northern areas, but he is against a “package”, which includes the exchange of the territories of Presevo, Medveja and Bujanovac.

However, what disrupted the signing of an agreement in the spring of 2019 was  the negative position of top EU powers: in the first place, France, and especially, Germany. «The territorial integrity of Western Balkans has been formed and cannot be changed», – Chancellor Angela Merkel said: «There have been attempts to start negotiations on the borders but we cannot do it».

After talks between Aleksandar Vucic and  Hashim Taci in Berlin in April 2019 resulted in no concrete agreements, the initiative in the negotiating process was assumed by the United States. It was the Trump administration that issued an ultimatum and de facto forced into resignation the Kosovo Cabinet, led by Albin Kurti, a radically minded politician and a staunch opponent to Hashim Taci and any agreements with Belgrade. In addition, Washington got Pristina to lift the restrictive trade tariffs from Serbian goods – something the European Commission had failed to do before.

Speaking of European countries, Austria has come in support of division of Kosovo as a measure to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina. «If Serbia and Kosovo agree on a change of border, Austria will support the move», – Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said as he commented on the situation.

Nevertheless, a whole range of political issues has to be clarified if regional stability is to be achieved and not come under threat.

First of all, these issues embrace the territorial aspect of the “package” agreement, including the list of regions which are covered by it. Apparently, the exchange of territories of Northern Kosovo for the Serbian communities of Presevo Valley, which was proposed by Hashim Taci, does not appear to be fair from the point of view of the Serbian president, let alone for radically minded Serbian parties and politicians, who used this to mount their campaign in the run-up to parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 21st.

Secondly, Brussels’ approval of a new carve-up of the  Balkan borders will inevitably give fresh impetus to debates on the creation of “Greater Albania” – a state which would incorporate Albania proper, the larger part of Kosovo, Presevo Valley, parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, and probably, Greece, with a projected population of about 10 million people. These concerns are far from groundless.

Leaders of neighboring Albania acknowledge the inviolability of the existing borders. In 1992, the then Albanian leader Sali Berisha announced that “the idea of establishing “Greater Albania” was alien to Albanian ruling circles and political forces». However, in 2011 Azgan Haklaj, a member of the Presidium of the Democratic Party of Albania, said openly during his visit to Presevo that allAlbanian territories should be united to form one state. The incumbent Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, keeps emphasizing that for Tirana, unification of Albania and Kosovo represents the so-called “Plan A”, while division of Kosovo should be viewed as a move in this direction. According to opinion polls, the plan to turn Albanian borders into “ethnic” ones (that  is, to include in  them all Albanian-populated areas in the Balkans) is backed by more than 80% of the population of Kosovo, over 70% of residents of Albania, and by more than half of Macedonian Albanians.

The reasons why the US and the EU, in particular, have been unable to secure a compromise-based long-term solution to the Kosovo issue lie in their unwillingness to pursue a balanced policy regarding regional conflicts in the Balkans. The experience of the 1990s shows that top western powers, forming NATO, sided with one of the parties to military conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia, thereby violating the key principles of international peace and law. In 1999 such an approach spilled into aggression against Yugoslavia and the subsequent military and political support of Albanian separatists in Kosovo. As for the EU, this organization, from the very outset, assessed the Balkan problems separately from one another, proceeding from the “uniqueness” of every case.

Such an approach underlay the Stability Pact for Southern and Eastern Europe, which was devised by the European Union and put into effect in 1999 but which never produced any tangible effect or lasting results. The current situation all but confirms that.

AllthisgaveextraimpetustoBelgrade’sandPristina’seffortstoachieveatleastsomebilateralagreements. As acknowledged by Le Monde diplomatique, «a carve-up of regional borders on the ethnolinguistic and religious principles may receive more momentum in the course of talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic makes no secret of his readiness to recognize Kosovo in exchange for territorial concessions, whereas his counterpart Hashim Taci hopes to invite Serbian Albanians to live in his country», – the French newspaper reports.

Given the situation, Russia, with due regard for its interests and the history of Serbian-Russian relations, finds it important to use the models which the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina are currently ready to accept, including division and exchange of territories on the basis of a compromise and under the supervision and guarantees of the international community represented by the UN and its Security Council. Russian officials, in the first place, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has repeatedly pointed out that Moscow will welcome “any solution which will meet the interests of Serbia”.

About his country’s foreign policy priorities, including those related to the issue of Kosovo, Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic made a clear statement a few days ago to this effect. He said that Serbia has been cooperating with Russia and China in the same manner as many other countries of the EU and that simultaneously, it has no intention to give up on  its policy of integrating with the EU – trade with the EU is at an all-time high: «We want to belong to this community. But don’t forget that Serbia is in a specific situation, when we talk about Kosovo and Metohia. The undivided support for Serbia’s integrity comes from China and Russia, we have very good economic and other tie with these countries».

Simultaneously, he pointed out that Serbia, due to its geopolitical position, cannot say a decisive ‘no’ to either the EU, or the USA.

Considering the above mentioned, Russia considers it essential to continue to render diplomatic and political support to Serbia’s incumbent authorities and keep a close eye on what is happening around Kosovo, where they forecast the possibility of an  escalation of tension between the EU and the USA. 

From our partner International Affairs

Continue Reading
Comments

Europe

France’s Controversial ‘Separatism’ Bill

Published

on

In his very first days at the Elysee Palace, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to detail his views on secularism and Islam in a wide-ranging speech. It took more than three years for this to happen, with the much awaited speech actually taking place in October a week after a teacher was violently killed for revealing the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) during a lecture on freedom of expression. Macron said during his speech that “Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world”, adding that there was a need to “free Islam in France from foreign influences”. Mr. Macron and his Parliament allies have described the bill as a reaction to the rise of Islamic separatism, which the President defines as a philosophy that seeks to create a parallel state in France where religious laws replace civil law.  Referring to the cartoons at a citizenship ceremony earlier and before the latest attacks, Macron defended the “right to blasphemy” as a fundamental freedom, even as he condemned “Islamic separatism.”

“To be French is to defend the right to make people laugh, to criticize, to mock, to caricature,” the president said. The proposed law allows religious associations and mosques to report more than €10,000 ($12,000) in international support and to sign a promise to uphold the French republican ideals in order to obtain state subsidies. The bill will also make it possible for the government to close down mosques, organizations and colleges that have been described as criticizing republican values.The controversial bill is blamed for targeting the Muslim people and enforcing limits on nearly every part of their lives. It allows government to oversee the funds of associations and non-governmental organizations belonging to Muslims. It also limits the schooling options of the Muslim community by prohibiting families from providing home education to children. The law also forbids people from selecting physicians on the grounds of gender for religious or other purposes and mandates a compulsory ‘secularism education’ on all elected officials. Physicians will either be charged or jailed under the law if they conduct a virginity test on girls. Critics argue the so-called “separatism law” is racist and threatens the 5.7 million-strong Muslim population in France, the highest in Europe. Its critics include the 100 imams, 50 teachers of Islamic sciences and 50 members of associations in France who signed an open letter against the “unacceptable” charter on 10 February.

A criminal act for online hate speech will make it easier to easily apprehend a person who shares sensitive information about public sector workers on social media with a view to hurting them and will be disciplined by up to three years in jail and a fine of EUR 45.000. The banning or deleting of pages spreading hate speech would now be made smoother and legal action accelerated. The bill expands what is known in France as the ‘neutrality clause,’ which forbids civil servants from displaying religious symbols such as the Muslim veil and holding political opinions, outside public sector workers to all commercial providers in public utilities, such as those working for transport firms.

French Members of Parliament held two weeks of heated debates in the National Assembly. People of Muslim faith interviewed outside the Paris Mosque and around Paris on the outdoor food market before the vote had hardly heard of the rule. “I don’t believe that the Muslims here in France are troublemakers or revolutionaries against France,” said Bahri Ayari, a taxi driver who spoke to AP after prayers inside Paris’ Grand Mosque. “I don’t understand, when one talks about radicalism, what does that mean — radicalism? It’s these people who go to jail, they find themselves with nothing to do, they discuss amongst themselves and they leave prison even more aggressive and then that gets put on the back of Islam. That’s not what a Muslim is,” he added.

Three bodies of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) have unilaterally denounced the “charter of principles” of Islam, which reaffirms the continuity of religion with France. The three parties said that the Charter was accepted without the full consensus of the other integral components of the CFCM, including the provincial and departmental councils and the imams concerned. “We believe that certain passages and formulations of the submitted text are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation. In addition, certain statements undermine the honor of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalizing character,” the Milli Görüş Islamic Confederation (CMIG) and the Faith and Practice movement said in a joint statement. The bill is blamed for targeting the Muslim community and enforcing limits on nearly any part of their lives. It allows for interference in mosques and organizations responsible for the operation of mosques, as well as for the oversight of the funds of associations and non-governmental organizations belonging to Muslims.

It is a difficult time for the nation, which has also accused its protection bill of containing the press freedom. The law introduced aims at making it unlawful to post photographs of police officers in which it is identifiable by “malicious intent” However, law enforcement has criticized the government after the declaration by Macron of the development of an online forum to flag police brutality.

Continue Reading

Europe

Why Is Europe Hostile Towards Russia?

Published

on

In his seminal 1871 work Russia and Europe, the famous Russian intellectual and Slavophile Nikolay Danilevsky set forth his theory that “Europe recognizes Russia as something alien to itself, and not only alien, but also hostile,” and that Russia’s fundamental interests should act as a “counterweight to Europe.”

One hundred and fifty years have passed since that work was published. The world has changed. No matter what anti-globalists might say, the rapid development of modern technologies and their use in our everyday lives has forced us to re-evaluate many of our beliefs about relations between states and people. The exchange of information, scientific discoveries and knowledge, and the sharing of our cultural wealth bring countries closer together and open up opportunities for development that did not exist before. Artificial intelligence does not know any boundaries and does not differentiate users by gender or nationality. Along with these new opportunities, the world is also faced with new problems that are increasingly supranational in nature and which require our combined efforts to overcome. The coronavirus pandemic is the latest example of this.

It is against the background of these rapid changes, which for obvious reasons cannot unfold without certain consequences, that we can occasionally hear this very same theory that “Europe is hostile towards Russia.” Although the arguments put forward to support this claim today seem far less nuanced than those of Nikolay Danilevsky.

Even so, ignoring this issue is not an option, as doing so would make it extremely difficult to build a serious long-term foreign policy given the prominent role that Europe plays in global affairs.

Before we dive in, I would like to say a few words about the question at hand. Why should Europe love or loathe Russia? Do we have any reason to believe that Russia has any strong feelings, positive or negative, towards another country? These are the kind of words that are used to describe relations between states in the modern, interdependent world. But they are, for the most part, simply unacceptable. Russia’s foreign policy concepts invariably focus on ensuring the country’s security, sovereignty and territorial integrity and creating favourable external conditions for its progressive development.

Russia and Europe have a long history that dates back centuries. And there have been wars and periods of mutually beneficial cooperation along the way. No matter what anyone says, Russia is an inseparable part of Europe, just as Europe cannot be considered “complete” without Russia.

Thus, it is essential to direct intellectual potential not towards destruction, but rather towards the formation of a new kind of relationship, one that reflects modern realities.

At the dawn of the 21st century, it was clear to everyone that, due to objective reasons, Russia would not be able to become a full-fledged member of the military, political and economic associations that existed in Europe at the time, meaning the European Union and NATO. That is why mechanisms were put in place to help the sides build relations and cooperate in various fields. Bilateral relations developed significantly in just a few years as a result. The European Union became Russia’s main foreign economic partner, and channels for mutually beneficial cooperation in many spheres were built.

However, EU-Russia relations have stalled in recent years. In fact, much of the progress that had been made is now being undone. And positive or negative feelings towards one another have nothing to do with it. This is happening because the parties have lost a strategic vision of the future of bilateral relations in a rapidly changing world.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said that Russia is part of Europe, and that, culturally, Russia and Europe are one civilization. This is the basic premise—one that is not based on emotions—that should underlie Russia’s policy in its relations with Europe.

Russia and the European Union disagree on many things, but the only way to overcome misunderstandings and find opportunities to move forward is through dialogue. In this context, the recent visit of the EU High Representative to Moscow was a much-needed step in the right direction, despite the criticism that this move received from the European side. Nobody was expecting any “breakthroughs” from the visit, as the animosities and misunderstandings between the two sides cut too deep. Yet visits and contacts of this kind should become the norm, for without them we will never see any real progress in bilateral relations.

In addition to the issues that currently fill the agendas of the two sides, attention should be focused on developing a strategic vision of what EU-Russia relations should be in the future, as well as on areas of mutual interest. For example, it is high time that Europe and Russia broached the subject of the compatibility of their respective energy strategies, as well as the possible consequences of the introduction of “green energy” in Europe in terms of economic cooperation with Russia. Otherwise, it will be too late, and instead of a new area of mutually beneficial cooperation, we will have yet another irresolvable problem.

In his work Russia and Europe, Nikolay Danilevsky, while recognizing the good that Peter the Great had done for his country, reproached him for “wanting to make Russia Europe at all costs.” No one would make such accusations today. Russia is, was and always will be an independent actor on the international stage, with its own national interests and priorities. But the only way they can only be realized in full is if the country pursues an active foreign policy. And one of the priorities of that policy is relations with Europe.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Europe

Entry into force of the Tromso Convention: A unique opportunity

Published

on

Accessing quality information has never been so challenging, despite or maybe, because of our exposure to tremendous amount of information. The entry into force of the Council of Europe (CoE) Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromsø Convention) on 1 December 2020, in a context of concerning deficit of transparency in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic, appears as an opportunity for governments to reinforce transparency culture and restore citizens trust and legitimacy in their institutions, in democracy.

Increasing recognition of the right of access to official documents

The Nordic European States pioneered the development of the right of access to official documents, with the world’s first law on access to information adopted by Sweden in 1766. It then spread progressively to many other West European countries, before reaching its peak in the 1990s with the creation of legal tools in the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe. Today, various legal instruments (constitutions, national laws and jurisprudence) across Europe recognize the right of access to official documents. At the international level as well, this right has been increasingly recognized[1].

The CoE Convention on Access to Official Documents, signed on 18 June 2009 in Tromsø, Norway, is the first binding international legal instrument to recognize a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. More than ten years later, on 1 December 2020, the Convention entered into force, following the ratification by Ukraine, tenth State to ratify it[2].

The Convention considers that all official documents are in principle public and provides a minimum legal framework for the prompt and fair processing of requests for access to official documents. Only the protection of other rights and legitimate interests can justify the rejection of requests. When requests are denied, it obliges the States to provide “access to a review procedure before a court or another independent and impartial body established by law” (Article 8).

This development could give a fresh impetus to European efforts towards greater transparency and reinforce democracy in general. It is particularly much welcome in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis and the “infodemic” accompanying the pandemic.  However, observers stress that much remains to be done to make this ambitious initiative a reality and to bring together all European countries to ratify it.

Making access to official documents a reality

In her comment on the Convention, CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović stresses the importance of access to official documents for “transparency, good governance and participatory democracy and a key means of facilitating the exercise of other human rights and fundamental freedoms” and calls on CoE member states and non-member states to ratify the Tromsø Convention as soon as possible. On the same note, Access Info Europe group called on 17 November all member states of the CoE to sign and ratify, with a special call on France, German, Italy and Great Britain, in order to ensure that Europe’s largest countries are taking part in this European effort towards greater transparency of public authorities.

Today, virtually all countries of the Council of Europe have freedom of information laws and some “good models” exist[3]. But the level of transparency varies between the countries and even across the institutions of each country. In some legal provision, the lack of clarity jeopardizes the enforcement.

In such context of profusion of legal provision, the Tromsø Convention could help build a stronger, harmonized and more comprehensive legal framework, create a common understanding of access to official documents and guarantee that all European citizens enjoy the same right to information and hold their authorities accountable.

In addition to ratification, promoting and disseminating the legal instruments must be a priority, as states Article 9 of the Convention: “Parties shall inform the public about its right of access to official documents”. Signatory states must promote this legal instrument and avoid that such a crucial initiative goes unnoticed. It would be paradoxical if such an ambitious initiative on transparency is not truly made public.

Transparency often denied when it is most needed

Access to information is even more vital in times of crisis. In the current Covid-19 pandemic, access to reliable information is not only a matter of public health but also of public trust in health management systems and authorities. Fighting misinformation should be part of the crisis management plans, to fight the “infodemic” parallel to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, it is precisely in times of crisis that freedom of information is often denied, on the grounds of national security arguments. The secrecy around the EU vaccines contracts is a blatant illustration of such ambivalent attitude to transparency when it is most needed. On Friday 29 January, five months after the signature and after renewed requests from various European politicians and civil society groups, the European commission finally published the vaccine contract signed on 27 August 2020 with Astrazeneca.

Although the publication of such an important document could have been a great move for the Commission to regain legitimacy, the actual outcome, a redacted document with price and accountability terms kept secret, raises more questions than it answers, contributing to more mistrust. Why is the Commission holding such crucial public health information, denying citizens right to know on issues that directly affect them?


[1] Examples: United Nations Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters;Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.

[2] after Sweden, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Moldova, Croatia, Montenegro, Hungary and Lithuania.  Eight additional countries have already signed the Convention: Armenia, Belgium, Georgia, Iceland, North Macedonia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia.

[3] In her call on CoE members states to ratify the Convention, DunjaMijatović names for example Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia which have an independent oversight body responsible for monitoring and enforcing the right to information.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

EU Politics1 hour ago

Explainer: New EU strategy on adaptation to climate change

1. What is the objective of the new EU Adaptation Strategy? The Strategy outlines a long-term vision for the EU...

Environment3 hours ago

Public-private partnerships could play key role in combatting deforestation

As environmental leaders and change makers meet virtually for the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)  in...

Americas5 hours ago

Secretly, Biden’s Foreign Policies Are Trump’s Foreign Policies

Though U.S. President Joe Biden is publicly critical of Donald Trump’s foreign policies, he’s continuing almost all of them and...

Reports7 hours ago

Greater Innovation Critical to Driving Sustained Economic Recovery in East Asia

Innovation is critical to productivity growth and economic progress in developing East Asia in a rapidly changing world, according to...

Southeast Asia9 hours ago

Myanmar: Exploiting lessons learnt in the Middle East

Demonstrating for the third week their determination to force the country’s military to return to its barracks, protesters in Myanmar...

Energy11 hours ago

Jordan, Israel, and Palestine in Quest of Solving the Energy Conundrum

Gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean can help deliver dividends of peace to Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. New energy supply...

Reports13 hours ago

Sea transport is primary route for counterfeiters

More than half of the total value of counterfeit goods seized around the world are shipped by sea, according to...

Trending